25/2/19: Europe’s TBTF Banks are only Bigger-to-Fail…

Since the start of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and through subsequent Euro area crises, the EU frameworks for reforming financial services have invariably been anchored to the need for reducing the extent of systemic risks in European banking. While it is patently clear that Euro area's participation in the GFC has been based on the same meme of 'too big to fail' TBTF banks creating a toxic contagion channel from banks balance sheets to the real economy and the sovereigns, what has been less discussed in the context of the subsequent reforms is the degree of competition within European banking sector. So much so, that the Euro area statistical boffins even stopped reporting banking sector concentration indices for the entire Euro area (although they did continue reporting the same for individual member states).

Chart below plots weighted average Herfindahl Index for the EA12 original Euro area states, with each country nominal GDP being used as a weight.

The picture presents a dire state of the Euro area reforms aimed at derisking the bank channel within the Eurozone's capital markets:

  • In terms of total assets, concentration of market power within the hands of larger TBFT banks has stayed virtually unchanged across the EA12 between 2009 and 2017. Herfindahl Index for total assets was 0.3249 in 2009 and it is was at 0.3239 in 2017. Statistically-speaking, there has been no meaningful changes in assets concentration in TBTF banks across the EA12 since 2003. 
  • In terms of total credit issued within the EA12, Herfindahl Index shows a rather pronounced trend up. In 2010 (the first year for which consistent data is provided), Herfindahl Index for total credit shows 0.0602 reading, which rose to 0.0662 in 2017.
Put simply, TBTF banks are getting ever bigger. With them, the risks of contagion from the banking sector to the real economy and the sovereigns remain unabated, no matter how many 'green papers' on reforms the EU issues, and no matter how many systemic risk agencies Brussels creates.